Archives For grace

I believe in the Gospel of grace. Grace here defined as a free gift of God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon sinful humanity. None of us deserves it, yet it’s given freely. I don’t understand that. Yet I embrace it. For I know my need.

As with any gift, the grace that is given must be received. While the invitation is open to all, while there are seats at the table for all, not all want God’s grace. I don’t understand that, either.

For those that receive His grace, and freely come, we’ve not found a license to sin. We find salve for our wounds, balm for our souls. But we find something, Someone, else as well:

Jesus.

And that encounter with Him must fundamentally alter the course of our lives. He gave His all upon the cross; died a death which wasn’t His, payed a debt He didn’t owe. When we come to Him, as with any loving parent, He in His grace, will gently, lovingly, yet implacably, remove from us (as we let Him) all that is not Him. Anything that is not Him, to which we run for comfort, try to assuage our brokenness, fill our emptiness, in which we find identity, He will inexorably take away. There can be no other before Him. In other words, the Gospel of grace is the Gospel of death: a death to self.

Grace is found in, and fills, the cracks, yes.

But make no mistake: it is grace which takes our our sacred cows, everything we exalt above Our Lord. Take it from me (with generous portions of sodium chloride, naturally) that when Jesus comes asking to take that thing away (whatever that thing may be), yield then. You really don’t want His graceful two-by-four upside your stubborn head. Because He will.

Make no mistake: He loves as we are, where we are, but loves us enough to not leave us there.

So, yes, grace is free. But not pain-free. Jesus is the cosmic cow-tipper. Upending our comfortable, carefully controlled lives He longs to give us something so much better.

James Prescott has written, and just released, a book called Mosaic of Grace God’s Beautiful Reshaping of Our Broken Lives, wherein he writes so much more eloquently than I ever could about grace. Consider this your not-so-gentle reminder to pick up a copy of James’s book at your bookseller of choice. Find James on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog, James Prescott.

Just Come

randomlychad  —  October 6, 2015 — Leave a comment

My wife and I participate in a small group study. Lately, we’ve been looking at how to share the Gospel. As a part of that process, I’ve been tasked with answering a couple of common objections:

The exclusivity of the message of Jesus, and the plethora of world religions. I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, but intend to give it the old college try.

The world as we see and experience certainly establishes a prima facie case against the existence of God. There is much suffering, atrocities, and evil. Why would a good God allow such things to transpire? On the other hand, there is much about this world which is beautiful, lovely, and sublime in way which surpasses our poor power to express it. There is an order to the universe, and a precision in the way in which it operates that certainly at the least implies design. Atheists will say that’s all it is, implied design. But according to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is often the correct one, e.g., the universe appears designed because it is designed. In other words, and in the words of C.S. Lewis, “if the universe were without meaning we should never have discovered that it was without meaning.”

Is it possible that both are true? That all we see around is designed, yet all is not as it should be? Pain, suffering, disease, and death certainly provide a strong argument for this. If this is so, is God to blame? Is He a cosmic sadist delighting in our struggles? Why would He go to such great lengths to create all of this only to seemingly remain hidden from His creation? Why does He allow us to flounder in the mire? Surely a loving Father would [fill in the blank]?

And there’s the rub: we’ve just gone over the line into idolatry, making a god in our image, instead of falling at the feet of the One Who is. Because the One Who is, while promising an ultimate end to evil, in the meantime chooses the much harder path of walking with His suffering creation in love. Rather than delivering us from every trial, He suffers along with us. Instead of answering our questions, our every objection, He gives Himself. This is not an answer that many are willing to hear.

So yes, the world is broken. We are broken, and our brokenness try to fill that void with whatever we think will sooth our savage breast: science, atheism, sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships, education, what have you. We move from one thing to the next, never really assuaging the emptiness. And into this mess comes the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems an offer too good to be true; for how can it be free? This answer to our broken selves, this broken world? Because our experience is here, in the material plane, we know that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, that we get what we pay for… Thus it is that the word squeezes us into its mold. Because there’s always strings, right? And we don’t want to be anyone’s puppet. That is ultimately what it boils down to, really; every objection to the existence of God, while purporting to be philosophical, scientific, logical, is really about this: we don’t want to give up control. All else–the prima facie case the world presents–is but a smokescreen to an underlying condition of the heart the Bible terms “sin.”

Because God made us free, we are free to either accept, or reject, this fact. In essence, in shaking our fists at the sky we are saying, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, God, my mind is already made up.” And then we will come up with our reasons, our justifications, of why this is so. Why we are right, and Christians are wrong. Why we’re okay. This is nothing but confirmation bias. We’re right because we’re right. I’m okay, you’re okay. Now go away.

Meanwhile Jesus is saying, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”

And that is what the Gospel is all about: rest from our striving, our brokenness, our sin.

Come to Me, He says.

Come and lay your objections down, and take up the life you were made for. For His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Just come.

The story of Ehud in Judges chapter three is a short, probably familiar, one. What follows is a poetic retelling of the events of that chapter.

After Othniel, all Israel sinned–
handed over into the hands of their enemies (again)
When 18 years had gone by,
with one voice they cried
(in wailings not to be denied):
Restore, renew, revive
Deliver us once more–
do not ignore our pleading
God had a plan:
Raising up Ehud, a left-handed man
Who by the word crafted a sword,
Strapping it to his right thigh
Eglon the king’s time was nigh
Bringing tribute to the king,
Ehud left, but returned again
With a word from the Lord
(sharper than the two-edged sword)
Locking the chamber, not knowing his danger,
Eglon arose with expectant ear
Not at all knowing his end drew near
Reaching over, with nary a swagger,
Ehud unleashed his mighty dagger
Plunging it into the belly of the king
In it went, past the hilt, sinking
Past layers of blubber
Eglon was done, his bell rung
And out of his belly came the dung
Falling upon the floor
Ehud escaped, the king’s servants
Waiting, anxious, outside the chamber door
After some time passed, and then some more
Unlocking the portal, upon entering
What did they see?
But the slumped Eglon, cooling upon the tile,
Blood and excrement mixt all the while
Whilst the Lord, through Ehud, gave the victory
10,000 Moabites slain, Israel now free

What I love about the Old Testament is that it is full of stories like this one. Stories of regular people used of God at just the right time. What I also love is that there are layers upon layers of meaning. For instance, the account here gives us enough to go on. Just as telling is what it doesn’t say. The events described have been going on for eighteen years. Likely, as Josephus says, this is not Ehud’s first rodeo; he has been there before. To be able to hide the sword as he does folks would have already had to know he was left handed (else his ruse wouldn’t have worked). Moreover, to get a private audience with the king he had to have been someone known, i.e. a trusted entity. Ehud was known to Eglon and his court.

Beyond the mere happenstance, the events themselves, scholars have used the phrase “types and shadows” to describe much of the Old Testament. Types of Christ, of sin, and shadows of things to come. For instance, in the story of Ehud, what is he called in verse five?

Deliverer.

Who else do we know by that name–deliverer? Jesus, of course.

In this passage, Ehud is a type of Christ. What does he do? In verse twenty-one, he puts to death Eglon–that is to say, sin. Eighteen years the Children of Israel lived under the oppressive yolk of Eglon, finally crying out to the Father. God raises up a deliverer to put an end to the oppression. Judgment came by way of an eighteen inch sword.

In Revelation 19:15, it is said of the Lord Jesus that “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (ESV)

The sword is also symbolic, for now in the church age God has put to death sin once and for all in the body of the Lord Jesus, e.g., He is our Ehud. Yet, we have to want to be free. Like the Children of Israel, we often turn away, cry out for deliverance.

God always answers. Now, however, instead of putting to death the enemy outside (for whom He call us to pray), He calls us to look inward–in a way handing us a blade called candor, asking us to plunge into our own bellies, our own hearts. To get to the freedom offered us in His grace we must take that painful look inside ourselves at the ugliness which often lay within, exposing it to the light. This is why Jesus counsels us to remove the log from our own eyes before we take our brothers and sisters to task for the specks in theirs.

What is God asking you to look at today? Are you avoiding it? Denying it? Do you want to be free? In light of verses 21-22 (“Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out”), is there anywhere in your life where the sword called truth needs to penetrate that the filth may come out?

I find the older I grow, and the longer I walk with the Lord, I’m less apt to pray for justice when I’m maligned, slighted, hurt, what have you. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I pour out my frustrations to Him with Whom we have to do. It’s just that when I’m just about ready to hurl damming imprecations heavenwards a funny thing happens:

It dawns on me that I’m a sinner, too. That there but for the grace of God go I. Because if I start praying that God would exact righteous justice upon those who have hurt me, what can I reasonably expect from Him? I deserve His justice just as much.

So I beseech Him for His mercy. For those who have hurt me (who are so obviously hurting themselves), and for myself. As it says in the Scriptures, “In wrath remember mercy.”

We are all of us alike before Him. We are all alike in our need of Him. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has the caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Remember: hurting people hurt people. Don’t be so eager in your quest for swift justice that you forget it’s justice you yourself deserve, too. Thank God for His mercy today, my friends.

Because none of us deserves it.

Grace is a subject inexhaustible. A well whose depths we could never hope to fully plumb, a tower so high we could never hope to scale its heights. Perhaps then it’s easier to begin a post on grace by stating what it isn’t:

Grace isn’t mercy.

Mercy, for the purposes of discussion here, is simply the withholding of something deserved. For instance, let’s say you’ve been pulled over by one of our boys in blue for speeding. Both you, and he, know you deserve that ticket. You were speeding. Instead, the officer lets you off with a warning. You’ve just received mercy. A deserved consequence has been withheld.

How would grace play play out in a similar situation (for the sake of argument, please bear with me here)? You were speeding in your battered, beaten old Chevy. You stop. The officer approaches your car. You figure you’re going to get a ticket for sure. You’re not getting out of this one. When the cop asks you to exit your vehicle, you know you’re toast.

And then…

Not only does he give you a warning, he also hands you to the keys to his supercharged Dodge Charger. He says it’s yours, and to go on your way. You deserved a ticket, and instead got a new car!

That’s grace, my friends. Erstwhile theologians the Newsboys put it this way:

“When we don’t get what we deserve it’s a real good thing.” (Mercy).

“When get what we don’t deserve it’s a real good thing.” (Grace).

Put another way, and let’s say you’re a parent, the difference between mercy and grace is the difference between merely withholding a deserved consequence from your child (mercy), and instead bearing that consequence yourself–and then taking your kid out for ice cream! While the two go hand-in-hand, there’s nevertheless a vast divide betwixt them. As defined by the theologians, grace is “the unmerited, unearned favor of God.” We did nothing to earn it, nothing to deserve it, and yet He pours it out upon us.

Why?

Because Jesus.

Not only did He take our deserved punishment on the cross, He now pours out unearned, unmerited blessings upon us. Like the example above, we deserved a ticket, and instead got the new car.

All we have to do is believe.

The late science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein coined the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (TANSTAAFL). Respectfully, Mr. Heinlein I disagree. There is, and it’s called Christianity. Specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” All who call upon His name shall be saved.

Have you called upon His Name today? Have you experienced His grace?

You can–if you will but believe.

Thanks for reading!